The Introduction of this report acknowledges ‘an increasing awareness of the need for the Church to respond more adequately to the presence of people with learning disabilities in its congregations … The main aim of these guidelines is to be a clear and practical guide for parishes and clergy to enable people with learning difficulties to be more fully included in the life and worship of the Church … (It offers) a chance to reflect on the gifts that people with learning disabilities bring to the Church’.
Extracts from a brief definition of learning disability: ‘A person is said to have a learning disability if their capacity to understand new or complex information or to master new skills is significantly limited .. It is also distinct from, and should not be confused with mental illness’.
The Guidelines direct ministers towards a ‘social model of disability (which) encourages us to recognise that people are disabled by society as the context in which they live with any impairment of their physical or mental functions’ as opposed to a purely medical model which is useful only within ‘strictly defined contexts’. Further, the section headed ‘The Theological Rationale’ explores the notion that ‘all human beings are made in the image of God’, are therefore loved by God and, as such, are invited to be members of the body of Christ.
Attitudes to healing are also considered; (i) spirituality – ‘We should hold to an understanding of healing as being broader than “cure” in that it opens a person to the total effect of God’s transforming love;’ and (ii) with a practical warning – ‘people with a learning disability can be very vulnerable and care needs to be taken when including them in healing services’.
Those rites of passage that are part of the church’s life are addressed: confirmation and preparation for communion; relationships and marriage; bereavement and funerals. There is a constant reminder of adapting and tailoring processes to the needs of the individual by means of close communication and involvement with families, carers, and support services. Parish life is focussed, since ‘adults and children with a learning disability have the same right to be included in pastoral care .. as any other individual’.
Creating a safe space for inclusion resonates with the now familiar model for safeguarding children; and to this end ‘Things to remember’ and ‘Things to do’ (pp 38/9) offer a welcome clarity. Health and Safety issues and the laws relating to Disability Discrimination and Disability Rights are also examined. The section ‘People on the Autistic Spectrum’ focuses on the complexities of a condition that is now increasingly identified. ‘Imagine a world where you can’t imagine’ points up the strangeness of that condition alongside a checklist of coping strategies, the write of which herself has Asperger’s syndrome.
Finally, a short glossary entitled ‘Some terms to use when referring to people with disabilities’ reinforces an important reminder: ‘always refer to the person before the disability’.
Summary: A resource book which with its bibliography and website guidance could prove a practical addition to the Church library.